These are the BEST Pork Carnitas (Slow Cooker Mexican Pulled Pork) you will ever try! Or so say all the reviews!
Your search for the Best Pork Carnitas Recipe stops here. These Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas are super juicy, easy and so much more flavorful than other versions complete with glorious caramelized crispy burnt ends! They are great for large crowds or make ahead meals and makes the best tacos, burritos, nachos, salads, etc.
Pork Carnitas Recipe Video
Pork Carnitas Recipe
Pork Carnitas!!! Whenever Patrick and I frequent Mexican restaurants here in San Diego (or more accurately hole in the wall joints – the best), one of us usually ends up with Pork Carnitas Street Tacos. The crazy tender juicy pork shoulder with addictively crispy edges is hard to beat. And now we can all devour them at home!
Carnitas are more mild in flavor than my intensely flavored Slow Cooker Barbacoa Beef, which make them incredibly versatile for anything and everything you want to make with them and pair fabulously with my Homemade Salsa Recipe, Salsa Verde and Pico de Gallo!
They also make a fabulous base if you want to “get saucy” and stir in some enchilada sauce, salsa and a touch of brown sugar at the end of cooking. But more than likely, you are going to want to devour these Crockpot Carnitas just. the. way. they. are.
What Are Carnitas?
While Carnitas are traditionally made by simmering large chunks of seasoned pork in hot lard on the stove top, then coarsely chopping to achieve the name Carnitas (translated as “little meats”), virtually the same result can be achieved in the slow cooker then baking and broiling the meat once shredded to achieve the crunchy bits.
Some might call this method blasphemy, but I call it easy, smart, healthier, and absolutely scrumdiddlyumptious. Your family and friends will thank you for making this slow cooker pork carnitas recipe again and again – think easy taco bar!
Pork Carnitas Ingredients
The ingredients list in the recipe card below may look lengthy, but that’s just because there are so many flavorful spices in this dish! In reality, you don’t need much to make Crockpot pork carnitas.
- Pork shoulder: You can also use a pork butt in this recipe. Be sure to trim off any excess fat.
- Olive oil: You need a drizzle of oil in the hot skillet to properly sear the meat.
- Orange juice: Use freshly squeezed orange juice if possible. Otherwise, buy a good quality bottled brand.
- Lime juice: Adds flavor and helps tenderize the meat. Freshly squeezed is best.
- Liquid smoke: Liquid Smoke can be found next to the barbecue sauces in your grocery store and adds a wonderfully smokey flavor.
- Bay leaves: Adds a lovely depth of flavor to the pork.
- Onion: Any variety will work here.
- Jalapeño: Remove the veins and seeds so the Mexican pulled pork doesn’t end up being super spicy.
- Tomato paste: This is the backbone of the wet spice rub.
- Soy sauce: I recommend buying reduced sodium soy sauce so you can control the amount of salt in this dish.
- Brown sugar: You need a little sugar to balance out the spicy, smoky flavors in the wet spice rub.
- Dried herbs and spices: This slow cooker carnitas recipe is packed with spices. Use good-quality spices, and give them a sniff first to make sure they’re fragrant (this means they’re fresh and still good for cooking).
How to Make Carnitas
To make these restaurant-quality Mexican pulled pork carnitas, you first sear the pork to seal in the juices, and caramelize the sugars in the meat. I also like to leave my pork in one large piece instead of chopping it smaller because the inside of the meat stays extra moist — not to mention it’s much easier to sear!
Next, (once cool enough to handle), massage it with a wet spice rub of hand picked Mexican spices as well as tomato paste, soy sauce and brown sugar. This wet spice rub really sets this carnitas recipe apart from other versions as it infuses the meat with flavor (but not too much flavor), so it is eat-plain-delectable.
Now it might seem a little counter intuitive to rub the meat with the Spice Rub after you sear it, but because this rub contains brown sugar, it can easily burn and blacken when seared. The spices will still penetrate the meat, as it simmers in the bath of orange juice, lime juice, onions, garlic, jalapeños and liquid smoke for truly glorious slow cooker pork carnitas. The aforementioned liquid smoke also adds an undeniably smoky flavor that makes these Carnitas taste truly authentic.
After your meat has cooked on LOW for 8-10 hours or on HIGH for 5-6 hours, it’s time get those edges nice and crispy! Please don’t skip this step otherwise you just have slow cooker Mexican pork, but NOT pork carnitas!
How to Get Crispy Carnitas the Easy Way
There are a few schools of thought when it comes to getting the edges crispy. Some people fry up their shredded pork on the stove, which, while delicious, is more labor intensive and takes way too many batches for so much pork.
I prefer the oven method. Simply line 2 baking sheets with foil, spread out your shredded pork, drizzle with some of the leftover seasoned slow cooking juices that are bursting with flavor and bake for 20 minutes.
At this point, your pork will start to crisp up in a few places but to finish it off, broil it to desired crispiness for an extra 5-10 minutes then drizzle with more scrumptious juices so it’s crispy AND juicy.
Pile your slow cooker carnitas high…
And either wrap in a warm tortilla smothered with your favorite toppings or pack on a plate with or stuff in ridiculously delicious Cheesy BBQ Pork Taquitos and savor the beauty of Carnitas without standing in front of a stove all day. It’s a beautiful thing.
Tips for Making the Best Carnitas
- Cook until tender, but not fall apart tender. When your pork is tender enough to shred into chunks but not fall apart tender, shred it into larger sections in the slow cooker and continue to cook on LOW for 20 minutes until it is practically fall apart fork tender. This allows the flavorful slow cooker contents to seep into every pork crevice without it becoming overcooked.
- Add some spice. This Crockpot carnitas recipe is flavorful but not spicy when you use 1/2 teaspoon chipotle chili powder. If you know you like a kick, then use 1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder.
- Sear the meat. When searing, the pork will naturally release from the pan once it’s properly seared. If it’s sticking to the bottom of the pan, it is most likely needs more time. It will take 2-5 minutes per side (longer if using a nonstick pan).
Carnitas Variations to Try
- Add chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Instead of a jalapeño, add a canned chipotle pepper for some added spice and extra smokiness. Be careful, chipotle peppers are much more potent than jalapeños!
- Make it saucy. For a saucy version, instead of broiling the pork, drain off excess juices then add: 1/2 cup enchilada sauce, 1/4 cup salsa, 4 oz. green chilies, and brown sugar and hot sauce to taste.
- Add toppings. Pork carnitas can be piled high with any number of toppings. My favorites are Restaurant-Style Salsa, Salsa Verde, and Guacamole!
How to Prep Pork Carnitas in Advance
You can make this Mexican pulled pork mostly the day before if that’s easier and then you don’t have to worry about cooking times later on.
If making ahead, cook the slow cooker carnitas until it is tender enough to shred, then shred the pork into large sections. After you do this, let your slow cooker sit at room temperature for a bit so the ceramic insert can cool down. Then, cover and place ceramic insert into fridge (including both the pork and the liquid it’s sitting in).
The next day, skim off the hardened fat from the top and heat on LOW for about 1- 1 ½ hours to heat through, then continue with the rest of the recipe as written. You can’t crisp up the carnitas in advance, as the meat loses its crispy edges over time.
How to Store Pork Carnitas
The slow cooker carnitas should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge. It should last up to 4 days.
How to Reheat Pork Carnitas
I recommend reheating any leftover Mexican pulled pork in a lightly oiled skillet over medium heat. This way, you don’t lose the crispness of the meat.
How to Freeze Pork Carnitas
Slow cooker carnitas makes for a great freezer meal! To freeze:
- Prepare the pork according to directions.
- Cool to room temperature.
- Add the meat to a large freezer bag OR portion into smaller size sandwich bags.
- Press bag(s) flat and squeeze out excess air to prevent freezer burn.
- Seal, label, and freeze for up to 3 months.
- To thaw, place in your fridge overnight.
What to Serve with Carnitas
Choose your favorite toppings and sides to transform these already fabulous carnitas into an epic meal!
- Sour Cream
- Pico de gallo
- Salsa verde
- Homemade Salsa
- Cilantro Lime Rice
- Mexican Rice
- Black beans (or any beans!)
- Corn Salad with Cilantro Lime Dressing
- Grilled Corn Salad with Chipotle Lime Butter
- Perfect Fruit Salad
- Southwest Salad with Creamy Avocado Salsa Dressing
- Southwest Orzo Salad with Chipotle Honey Lime Vinaigrette
- Pina Colada Fruit Salad
- Grilled Pineapple with Brown Sugar Orange Glaze
- Mexican Street Fries with Salsa Ketchup
- …and top it all of with Churros!
Looking for More Pork Recipes?
- Slow Cooker Asian Caramel Pulled Pork
- Chipotle Sweet Pulled Pork
- Salsa Verde Honey Lime Pork Fajitas
- Tacos Al Pastor
- Slow Cooker BBQ Pulled Pork
- Slow Cooker Pineapple Salsa Pork
- Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Sloppy Joes
- Slow Cooker Salsa Verde Pork coming soon
Want to try these Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas?
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*Try using leftovers in these amazing Cheesy BBQ Pork Taquitos!
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